An optical model description, based on multiple scattering theory, of longitudinal momentum loss in proton-nucleus and nucleus-nucleus collisions is presented. The crucial role of the imaginary component of the nucleon-nucleon transition matrix in accounting for longitudinal momentum transfer is demonstrated. Results obtained with this model are compared with Intranuclear Cascade (INC) calculations, as well as with predictions from Vlasov-Uehling-Uhlenbeck (VUU) and quantum molecular dynamics (QMD) simulations. Comparisons are also made with experimental data where available. These indicate that the present model is adequate to account for longitudinal momentum transfer in both proton-nucleus and nucleus-nucleus collisions over a wide range of energies.